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Be ready for tax time

January 20, 2012

Photo by Victoria Stanish – Filling out tax documents for 2011 can be made simpler with a few helpful tips.

Tax documents for 2011 will soon start arriving in the mail, and it is never too soon to start getting organized to ensure a maximum refund with minimal difficulties. 
Jennifer Jenkins, Internal Revenue Service media relations for Ohio and Western Pa., had some basic tips to offer taxpayers. 
“The first thing most people wonder is what's the deadline to file, and this year the deadline is Tuesday, April 17,” Jenkins said. 
The deadline has been extended due to April 15 falling on a weekend and Monday designated as Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia, a holiday unique to that city that celebrates President Lincoln's signing of the proclamation that freed slaves in D.C.
Jenkins said regardless of the April 17 deadline, people are encouraged to file as early as possible in case any issues develop with their return. 
"There's no need to wait until the last minute. In fact, it's better to not procrastinate," Jenkins said. 
Electronic filing, or e-filing, is probably the easiest way people can get their tax information to the IRS and enjoy a quicker turnaround if they’re expecting a refund. E-filing can be completed by visiting the IRS website, www.irs.gov.
"The vast majority of people can e-file,” Jenkins said. “People can file electronically for free at www.irs.gov, regardless of income. They can file at www.irs.gov/freefile.” 
She said that although anyone may file for free, there are some breakdowns according to income. 
“People making $57,000 or less can access brand-name commercial tax preparation software and use that to help them prepare and file their returns,” Jenkins said. “If someone's income is above $57,000, they can access free fillable forms, which are basically pdfs. It's not the same software for the lower incomes, but it does do basic math and that's the option for higher-income folks to also e-file for free.” 
She said most people should be able to e-file unless they are claiming a high-value tax credit requiring extensive qualifying documentation.
"In Pa. we're expecting to receive more than six million individual tax returns this year, including joint returns. Of those, we're expecting about 80 percent will be electronically filed,” Jenkins said. 
“That's a pretty good number. We've been working toward 80 percent for the last several years.” 
Jenkins said e-filing is more convenient for both the taxpayer and the IRS and allows people to receive their returns more quickly. 
“E-filing is quick in that when you electronically file, you'll get a response from the IRS to acknowledge receipt of your return very soon after you submit it. If you're due a refund, when you e-file with direct deposit, more often than not, you'll generally get your refund in 10 days or less, as opposed to about a month or more when paper filing,” Jenkins said.
Another reason Jenkins is a big fan of e-filing is that the free software use can red-flag an incorrect item before the return is filed as opposed to a paper form, where an error may not be caught. 
“If there's an error with your return, you will be notified of a problem before you submit it,” Jenkins said. “So you'll know if you left a number out or if you transposed a number or that something was wrong with your data before you can actually submit.” 
She said couples married in 2011 might want to review their status to see whether they're better off using the Married Filing Jointly status or the Married Filing Separately status.
“In most cases, married people filing a joint return makes the most sense tax-wise rather than filling separately,” Jenkins said. “So people would want to look at that and decide if it's worthwhile to file separately." 

Pick up a copy of the Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.

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